Platform: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Category: Action, Adventure & Platformer
Release Date: 23rd of March, 2018 (EU & NA)
Getting blood from a stone is easier than you think.
When it comes to the Nintendo Switch and its eShop, gems of almost every genre can be discovered. But one gem in particular, is missing, Castlevania. With a new or ported offering from Konami still missing in action, at last an alternative has appeared. Developed and published by 7Levels, Castle of Heart is a challenging platformer with a lot to prove. Yet despite the 3D Castlevania visuals and feel it does so well, Castle of Heart is more Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate, for 3DS as opposed to PlayStation 3. That’s not to say the 3DS version is bad, as I really enjoyed it, but there is a reason why the console versions have HD in the title and the graphics.
With regards to the story of Castle of Heart, it revolves around a nameless knight and tells of his struggle. After an encounter with a wicked Sorcerer on the side of evil, the woman the knight loves has been taken and a terrible cause has been placed upon him. Now a knight of stone, who will crumble away, as he loses health, he must set out from a petrified village and make his way to the sorcerer’s castle. With courage in his heart, a lover to rescue and a curse to lift, failure is just not an option.
Admittedly, although the story does sound like something befitting of a challenging platformer that really will challenge you, don’t go expecting too much from it. Although there is dialogue here and there, to set the scene and put you on the right path, it all feels a little basic. It feels as it if the writing and pacing was something of an afterthought that was just implemented to weave everything together.
From a con to a pro though, at least the actual gameplay isn’t bad and Castle of Heart is a game of some substance. It may only take you around 7 hours to completely beat it, due to being made up of 20 levels, with even the simplest of mistakes being able to cost you immensely, some levels can drag on. When running and jumping between platforms and ledges, a lot of the time, you will be forced to do battle against hordes of enemies, who are all too eager to see you fail in your quest.
As tempting as it is to run straight at them and spam the B button to attack, every now and then you will need to use ZL to block and ZR to roll, especially when enemy archers have a tendency to fire homing projectiles. (In the first four hours of playing, no matter what I did, how I did it or where I was, every time something was fired at me, it hit me, without fail, until I got better.) Should you manage to survive the aerial assault, there’s still the enemies on the ground level to contend with. Just as deadly as anyone else you’ll encounter, it only takes a group of three of them, to bring you to your knees within seconds.
To turn the tide in your favour however, should you walk over to a weapon an enemy has dropped, such as a spear (or an axe, crossbow, sword, etc.) or even a weapon that’s just resting on a rack, you should pick it up immediately! With long distance weapons, you can fire at obstacles above your enemies and have it drop on them and if it’s a lit lantern, that’s when things can really heat up. Although fire is devastating to you, as it can reduce your own health bar to nothing, it can do the same to them. But, if you prefer to get close, with so many melee weapons available, with some even having elemental attributes, getting close has never been so fun.
The only problem with wielding two weapons though, is while they do make things a lot easier, due to being cursed, the playable night is always losing health and if he loses enough, he will lose an arm. By losing the arm, he loses the ability to dual wield and throw objects, such as knives and bombs that can burn and freeze enemies. So, should you lose a limb, unless you are able to win the next battle you pick, as killing enemies can restore some health, your best bet is to avoid enemies wherever possible and do your best to reach a checkpoint. Not only do they give you a new place to start from, should you die, but checkpoints will fully restore your health upon reaching one. If in the event you can’t reach one, health can sometimes be found by breaking certain objects and picking up health gems and yes, if you restore enough life, you can get your arm back.
Should you require something a little more than running, jumping, moments where you need to run like mad/ride burning structures to escape with your life intact, there are plenty of secrets to discover. Granted they are nothing major, as most of the time they are just areas that require you to break a door down, or even a wall, thanks to a Special Attack (hold the L analog stick down and press Y,) you can discover treasure chests. There’s no gold in them, but you can discover useful items and the occasional purple crystal, called a Heart Piece.
With 5 of them to discover on each level, (80 in all,) they are a great way of expanding your life bar, to buy yourself more time and to be frank, you actually need to find as many as you can. Granted a lot of you reading this, will be players of more skill than I am, but the second boss dominated me for more time than I’d like to admit and it’s because I had nowhere near as much health as I could have. I actually had to go back to the previous levels I had beaten and scoured them for as many Heart Pieces as I could find before returning to the boss I failed to beat, and kill it in the first attempt. Plus, with Special Attacks actually costing you a considerable amount of health, it really is a case of the more you have, the better.
Now, while there are things Castle of Heart does get right as far as gameplay goes, there are plenty of times the game feels like it can ask too much of you. Every jump needs to be perfect, because standing a little too close to an edge, can see you fall to your doom and a jump too soon, will see to it you will never land on the intended platform. Poison and fire deal way too much damage to a knight made of stone that it comes across as being a little unrealistic and unnecessary, but the worst of it, is the fact the controls can feel a tad clunky, as they are nowhere near as fluid as they should be.
While I did not find Castle of Heart to be the dynamic, action platformer it is advertised to be, various issues and difficulty spike aside, it’s certainly a game that can promise a slightly different experience to anything else on Switch can offer. It’s a labour of love, with a world inspired by real-world locations that will leave you with a feeling of satisfaction when you eventually beat it, but it does feel as if this Switch exclusive should have undergone a little more polishing before making its debut.
THE VERDICT: 7/10
*Review Key Provided by 7Levels